Film Review: The Way Back (2010)

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    Letter received on this:Dear Editors,After reading the review of the film ‘The Way Back’ in the Socialist Standard of April 2012, I realised that the plot of the film was very similar to a book I read in 1981. Then I was 15 years old and a member of the Scouts (yes, that hangover from the days of the British Empire) and the book ‘As Far As My Feet Will Carry Me’ (1957) by JM Bauer was recommended to me by the Troop leader. The book was originally published in German and recounts the true story of a German Paratroop officer captured behind enemy lines in the USSR in 1942 and his subsequent sentencing  to 25 years labour in a gulag lead mine beyond the Arctic Circle in Siberia and from where he escaped and spent three years travelling through the far eastern parts of the USSR to freedom in the West.The first half of the book relates the experiences in the gulag but it is the second half of the book which recounts the travelling across the siberian tundra that is of interest. The narrator meets aboriginal peoples of the siberian tundra who are known as the ‘Chukchi’ or the ‘Reindeer Chukchi’ who live  a variation of a hunter-gatherer existence as pastoral-nomadic tribespeoples where their entire existence is centred on the reindeer – for transport, food, clothing and housing, and they operate a religious belief system based on nature deities and shamanism. Chukchi families were banded into larger groups of people with a figurehead chief and practised a primitive communism. The ‘reindeer men’ are a remarkable example of peoples living an existence from 35,00 years ago which is described in Lewis Morgan’s book ‘Ancient Society’ (1877) and it is Marx’s notes to this book that formed the basis for Engels’ work ‘The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State’ (1884).The USSR under Stalin even “collectivised” the Chukchi peoples in the 1930’s but it was only partially successful as the ‘reindeer men’ used the “kolchoz” (collective farm) as a type of base which became part of their pastoral-nomadic existence. The book also recounts the narrator’s time at the collective farm.I have discovered that in recent years the veracity of the account of the escape from the gulag and the years with the Chukchi peoples is in serious doubt. The book is still a very interesting account of aboriginal existence and the soviet collective farms in Siberia.Steve ClaytonSouth London Branch

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